Rating:When you make an 18 track hip-hop album about space shenanigans you’re going to get some unwelcome comparisons to a certain legendary album. Yes Deltron 3030 looms above Strange Journey Volume Three but the cheeky guys at CunninLynguists realized this and got Del Tha Funkee Homosapien to dominate the opening track. That’s the sort of fun absurdity that CunninLynguists revels in. If it wasn’t for an overstuffing of too self-serious tracks Strange Journey Volume Three would be a ridiculously enjoyable album. As it stands, the best parts of Strange Journey Volume Three is a deeply uneven album with a few stunning songs.
CunninLynguists have always had one of the best producers in the game, Kno. His remix of Jay-Z’s Black Album is legendary in underground circles. Unfortunately Strange Journey Volume Three doesn’t hold many of Kno’s calling cards. More than anything his work here is trying to desperately reflect the work of Dan the Automator and Kid Koala. Kno has a habit of taking Summer of Love vocal samples and making them the main hook. It gets awkward on tracks like “South California” and “Guide You Through Shadows” as the cheesiness inherent to the samples is played straight. This problem could come from how long this album is. Yes, three of the tracks are minimal interludes, but that still leaves 15 songs where much of Kno’s production isn’t interesting enough to justify the run time. With subpar production the rappers here have to work that much harder and they don’t always rise to the challenge.
CunninLynguists core member Deacon the Villain is a big reason that the album can sound overblown. It’s hard to take his “She blames Allah/He blames Christ” when he was just rapping about killing aliens with plasma swords. A few of the guests also land on the annoying side as well. Psalm One’s verse on “The Morning” sounds like one of Childish Gambino’s worst flows and Tunji doesn’t add anything to the already borderline “South California.”
And yet, despite all of this, CunninLynguists can churn out some absolutely momentous tracks. By and large, the group has good taste in features, grabbing Blu, Aesop Rock, and of course Del for the album. The funky opening track has Del “Karate choppin’ Martians” which is just goddamn awesome. The one serious track that does work on the album is “Castles” with Sadistik and Aesop. Sadistik proclaims “Death to the worker bees” and references Elliott Smith and Edgar Allan Poe. It was smart of CunninLynguists to place him on the track, he’s been working his way up for years and his passionate verses bring levity to every track he visits. Then there’s Ace who comes through with an excellent verse as always. He sort of explains how he weaves his mind boggling lyrics “But just won’t die, instead a palpitation from the plasma Pumping/disenchanting anecdotes and antiquated data at ’em” and then he ends with “the rest of me can barely form a god-damn sentence.” Hilarious, as his lines are the best on the album.
But it’s the gut-busting songs that really let CunninLynguists into their zone. “Drunk Dial” has Kno playing a surprisingly great hook man and the recipient of unwanted late night calls. Natti needs to get bailed after a raucous night running up the tab of some poor sap and Grieves leaves, what seems to be, a misogynistic verse aimed at an ex. It seems un-Grieves until Murs responds, revealing that Grieves’ text rants have been sent to Murs’ phone. “Homie why you tweeting in Spanish?” asks a concerned, but laughing Murs. “You saved my number under the wrong name in your phone?/Is that a picture of your…?/I’ma pretend I didn’t see that” CunninLynguists also finish with brilliant strength on “Urutora Kaij,” which not only has Kno’s best production on the album, it also has blindingly fast verses from Natti and Tonedeff. It’s easily in the top five hip-hop songs released so far this year. It’s somewhat disappointing though, hearing the heights that CunninLynguists can reach and then comparing the mediocrity that shows up much too often on Strange Journey Volume Three.